This story was originally written with a five day deadline and the prompt: “Something written on a tombstone”. It was for a Horror Writers Duel over at the House Of Horror website. The limit was 1,500 words. I’m pleased to say that this story won the duel. Have at ye!
Pushed Too Far
by Alan Baxter
Words carved into grey stone, spotted with lichen and weather, made Gary’s blood slow to a chilly crawl in his veins. His stomach felt watery, his legs soft. He folded to the ground, tunnel vision showing nothing but the chiselled words.
Taken Too Soon
With The Angels Now
‘I’m not dead!’ he screamed at the darkness above, his voice vanishing into a blanket of stars. Tears ran over his cheeks, tiny salt kisses on the corners of his mouth. ‘I’m not dead,’ he said again, more quietly.
The grave lay covered in unkempt grass and weeds, neglected. A dry and rotten collection of old flowers stood in a dirty glass vase, forgotten. Gary swallowed a sob that threatened to burst from his throat, taking his sanity with it.
How had he ended up here? Was he dreaming. He pinched the skin of his upper arm. It hurt. Gritting his teeth he twisted cruelly. That hurt even more, made him cry out. But not wake up. Could you pinch yourself in a dream? Could you dream pain and stay asleep?
He wasn’t just sitting before his own grave with no memory of dying. He was sitting here years after the event, the grave ignored and abandoned. He closed his eyes, trying to remember.
He recalled leaving the chicken shop, smelling of grease and stale sweat. He hated his job, but at least he had one. A distinct lack of schooling meant he was unlikely to ever get anything better than serving roast chicken to fat, lonely customers, but it was a job. He smiled at the memory of Pilkins, the spotty, skinny nerd. The only thing that made work bearable, forcing Pilkins to do horrible things. The kid was so easily embarrassed, so gullible, he did anything he was told. And Gary was happy to threaten physical violence at the slightest hint of resistance.
Gary’s last memory was leaving work after getting Pilkins to mop up a grease spill with his own shirt. He grinned, remembering Pilkins stood there with his apron over his naked, pale torso, his weak arms like threads of cotton sticking out the sides. The kid trembled in the hot kitchen as Gary left.
Was that really the last thing he could remember? Pilkins’ eyes were burning with hatred, his puny, useless body shivering with impotent rage, those eyes full of hate, Gary laughing.
And he’d said something. Gary squeezed his eyes shut tighter, trying to force the memory up through soupy fog in his brain. Why was it so hard to remember?
One skinny white arm had come up, those burning eyes had narrowed, the livery lips had quivered as Pilkins had said… something. It wasn’t English. That’s right! He’d said something weird. It sounded like an old language. Like bubbles through tar the words slowly struggled to the surface of Gary’s mind. ‘Imprecor tu.’
What did that mean?
But there was more than that. Like a snowball starting an avalanche the memories flooded back. Gary had walked home along Union Street, then cut across the park, like he always did. The fizzing halogen light over the gateway soon faded behind him as he strolled into the inky darkness. Nothing scared him. He was burly and surly and nobody’s victim.
Then a pale shape had emerged from the shadows. Gary jumped, surprise more than fear, then an icy chill of dread soaked through his bones. As the pale shape slowly became clearer, sliding unnaturally into the shape of a man, Gary’s heart started hammering. As the man walked forward, resolving into the pimply, thin face of Pilkins, Gary’s nerves thrummed with confusion.
He laughed, though it sounded hollow and brittle to his own ears. ‘What are you doing here, Pilkins? How did you get here so fast?’
Pilkins drifted closer, his skin paler than ever, his eyes dark and rheumy under sagging lids, his lips hanging loose. His teeth were broken and yellowed, jagged peaks and troughs in a mouth panting with a predatory desire. ‘Imprecor tu,’ he rasped, his voice harsh, slicing through the air.
‘What does that mean?’ Gary cried, his own voice high and thin. He cursed his fear even as his bladder let go, warm dampness spreading through his jeans. He staggered backwards, away from the steadily advancing Pilkins. But this shambling, flaccid creature wasn’t really Pilkins, was it? ‘What are you?’ Gary asked in a terrified whisper.
Pilkins’ mouth split impossibly wide, a feral grin of pure malice and too many teeth. ‘You fucked with me one time too many, Gary.’
‘What? What do you mean?’
‘You kept pushing and pushing, didn’t you? Well, when you push hard enough, something gives. And when something gives, who knows what might come out.’
Gary started crying, gasping sobs accompanied tears and snot to turn his face into a quivering mess. ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’
Pilkins laughed, a wet, bubbling sound. ‘It’s too late for that, bully. You’ve made your bed. Now lie in it!’
One long, thin hand, white and cold, shot out lightning fast and grabbed Gary’s throat. Icy fingers closed around his trachea as Pilkins’ other hand rose up, ghostly, before his face. ‘I’m going to kill you, Gary Feldman. And more than that, I’m going to make you suffer in death. Imprecor tu!’
Gary clawed at the waxy, chilled hand that held his throat. ‘What does that mean?’
‘What does it mean? It means curse you!’
‘Oh yes, Feldman. Curse. You’re fucked.’
Pilkins’ free hand shot forward as Gary screamed, frozen fingers with ragged nails piercing his eyeballs with vivid, scarlet agony and everything went dark.
Sitting on the damp grass before his neglected grave Gary’s eyes snapped open and he gasped. His hands flew up to his eyes, feeling for damage, but everything felt fine. Except it couldn’t be. He stood, looked around. The cemetery was in good repair, most of the graves well tended. Only his seemed to be in such a state of disrepair. ‘How long have I been gone?’ he whispered to himself.
With a cry of shock Gary spun around. There was Pilkins, ghoulish and icy like before. Only older. Where there had been a stringy, useless teenager there now stood a stronger, bulkier man. It was undoubtedly Pilkins, at least the broken, horrible version of Pilkins that Gary had last seen in the park, but the gangly teenager was grown now. ‘How long?’ Gary asked again in a reedy, terrified voice.
‘Ten years, Feldman. Your family had a funeral, everyone was very sad. Of course, they didn’t know what a bastard you really were.’
Gary shook his head, staring at the ground. ‘No. No it can’t be true. Ten years? Am I really…’ His voice disappeared in sobs.
‘Dead? Oh yes, you’re really dead. Your family came regularly to sit in vigil by your grave here, but I saw to that. Your father was easily distracted by booze and cheap women. It was surprisingly easy to destroy what remained of your happy family, broken with grief as they were.’
Gary looked up into those hideous, rheumy eyes. ‘No. No, that can’t be true.’
‘Oh, it’s true. Your mother’s grave is right there. She lasted a few years before opening her veins in a bath of hot water. Her life flooded out as she decried the cruel universe that had taken her son and destroyed her marriage. Cruel universe, indeed. I did laugh as I watched her die.’
Gary couldn’t speak, incomprehensible sounds stuttering from his throat as he read the words carved into the tombstone beside his.
Much loved wife and mother
Now in Jesus hands
His knees turned to water and he fell to the grass between his grave and his mother’s. He shook his head, sobbing in confusion, terror, grief. It couldn’t be true.
‘I’m still working on breaking your father,’ Pilkins said matter-of-factly. ‘It was easy to destroy everything around him, but he’s surprisingly resilient. His grave will be here by the next time we meet, though, you can rest assured of that.’
‘Oh, yes.’ Pilkins surged forward, grabbing Gary by the face, those cold, sharp fingers pointing into his eyes again. ‘Next time. In ten years. And every ten years after that. You’ll die again and again, and every time, right before I kill you, I’ll show you what else about your life I’ve destroyed. Your sister is pregnant, by the way.’
In a blur of white those frozen fingers shot forward, lightning agony lancing through Gary’s brain as his scream tore at his eardrums and everything went black.